While driving is second nature for most, the lack of routine commutes and car travel over the past four months have left some feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated as they get behind the wheel again.

In order to get a sense for how widespread this feeling is, the car insurance team at Reviews.com commissioned a survey of 1,207 US residents who drive their own vehicle regularly. Asking the survey respondents about how they feel as they start to drive more frequently following months of quarantine, an interesting trend emerged:

  • Of the 1,207 respondents, 28% stated they felt overwhelmed and overstimulated while returning to their regular driving habits following quarantine.
  • There was very little difference between male and female drivers feeling more or less overwhelmed while returning to regular driving habits.
  • Age played a notable factor in feeling overwhelmed, scaling as the respondent’s age increased. Over 40% of those age 65 or older stated they now feel “Very” overwhelmed by driving, as one example. Younger people, especially those in the 18-35 year old range only responded that they felt “Somewhat” overwhelmed or overstimulated, if at all.

Many reported that they noticed themselves feeling overwhelmed by how much is going on around them, especially on busier roads and highways.

“Getting on the freeway for the first time in two months was surreal. It took a lot more focus to feel comfortable merging through traffic. I had to pay close attention to what all the other cars around me were doing,” said one person who is now driving two or three times a week after several months off. “My instincts just weren’t there.”

And while many people reported the feeling of over-stimulation, one person we spoke with commented that it didn’t take long for that feeling to subside.

“After about a week of driving somewhat regularly, it felt normal again.”

In a report by the Los Angeles Times back the late 1980s, various folks discuss the fear of driving, especially when thrown into an overstimulating situation, in this example, moving to Los Angeles.

From the article:

Thousands of Los Angeles newcomers develop freeway phobias after arriving. They are shocked by the constant flow of traffic–slow and fast and unpredictable.

It’s easy to imagine why taking a break from driving over the last several months might lead to an initial feeling of over-stimulation and some trepidation when first getting back into a regular driving routine.

While there is no data available yet from federal, state, or city departments of transportation, it will be interesting to see if the return of more vehicles to the road after time off leads to a noticeable increase in crashes in the months following looser quarantine rules.

The number of cars on the road had drastically fallen following initial stay-at-home orders. Some cities saw their rush hour traffic completely vanish for almost an entire quarter. With that, gas prices fell as well, as people were filling up less. And due to the decrease in miles driven, many car insurance companies have offered discounts and credits toward future bills as their expenses for claims have decreased in the past four months with fewer people driving.

Taking a look at recent road traffic numbers seems to suggest that more people are returning to the road, and an earlier study even found that as other forms of travel remain harshly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, road trips remain relatively unscathed.

Methodology:

  • This survey was run the week of July 5th – 11th
  • 1,207 survey responses were collected online, from US residents and US territories.
  • 51.9% of respondents female, 48.1% male.
  • All age brackets surveyed were between 13-19% of total respondents.

About the Authors

The Reviews.com staff is dedicated to providing you with all the deep-dive details. Our writers, researchers, and editors came together from Charlotte, Seattle, San Juan, Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale, San Diego, and Chicago to put this review together.